This interview originally appeared in The Comics Journal #215, August 1999. Look for a brand new interview with Millionaire, covering the years since this one was conducted, very soon.
Many years ago, when Tony Millionaire showed up on the New York City cartoon scene, some viewed him as simply a drunken giant in a lime green leisure suit. But then his strips and art began to appear- first in small fanzines and later in places like The New York Press, The New Yorker, New York Magazine and other outlets- the picture of Tony Millionaire become more complicated. How was it that this human cartoon character was able to churn out weekly installments of a strip about an alcoholic and suicidal crow, but also from time to time produce shockingly elegant depictions of nautical adventures and uncannily reproduce the feel and spirit of old time newspaper strips?
Worldly, tall and drunkenly charming, Mr. Millionaire is the type of personality who instantly lights up a room- some run to greet him, while others run for cover. He's funny, loud, endearing and always unpredictable. He is also artistically gifted and incredibly prolific, with his Maakies strip appearing in numerous weekly papers--as well as an animated version that has been shown on Saturday Night Live- that Fantagraphics will soon be publishing a collected version of Maakies, and his Dark Horse Comic, Sock Monkey, has two issues out this summer. Mr. Millionaire, who began his cartooning career in earnest several years ago in New York City, recently moved to Los Angeles, where he lives with his girlfriend, the actress Becky Thyre.
Fittingly, this interview was conducted in a crappy bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where the tape player was often put on pause to allow one of us to go fetch another round of Bass. -John F. Kelly
Old photos courtesy of Danny Hellman.
John F. Kelly: I guess what everyone wants to know is where and why you came up with the name “Tony Millionaire”? What point are you trying to make with that name?
Tony Millionaire: What? It’s my name.
Tony Millionaire isn’t your Christian name–
Sure it is. It’s French.
It’s the French spelling of your actual name?
Yeah. No, Millionaire is a French name. Comes from Old French. It means a person who owns a thousand slaves. Serfs, not slaves.
But that’s not your real name.
Sure it is. One time my girlfriend was up in upstate New York, somebody said to her, is–what?
Your current girlfriend?
No, it was a long time ago. And she was talking about me, saying something about her boyfriend Tony Millionaire, and the person talking to her said, “Tony Millionaire? What kind of a name is that?” She said, “It’s French!” He said, “Oh, I thought it was some stupid performance art clown name.”
I thought it was your porno name.
Porno name? I haven’t worked at Screw Magazine in a long time.
Okay, let’s really start. You’re doing your weekly Maakies strip, and you’re also doing the Sock Monkey comic book for Dark Horse. What’s the biggest difference between the two projects?
Well, the strip is shorter.
Okay, besides that.
I think that although I’m always doing my comic strips, I really try to create–when I do my comic strips, I try to create another world. That’s what I think is the most important thing about comics, is that you’re looking at it–I mean, I’m reading Fred Bassett. I love the comic strip Fred Bassett. It’s like an old shoe, it’s like a comfortable old shoe. It’s a place that you go. It’s not about the joke, it’s not about the story so much, as about a place that you go to. You’re in Fred Bassett‘s comfortable world. That’s what I try to do with this–with Maakie’s, also. But with a comic book, I can go further with that. Of course, it’s all in one book. I mean, the world of Maakie’s is like a–it’s a world that you go to every week. With a comic book, it’s like–well, the same thing. Just love it. Whatever.
Comic strips about dogs, old and new.
How long does it take you to put together a full issue of Sock Monkey?
The first two issues, I don’t know, took about two months each to do. I don’t think I could ever do anything like–I wouldn’t want to do it for years and years like Peter Bagge or Dame Darcy, busting your ass for the small amount of money you get from comic books, drawing those beautiful, beautiful drawings. It’s so sad. Dame Darcy is just the best. She can draw a shiny hat like nobody’s business. She is, I think, the greatest cartoonist of our time. I love Dame Darcy’s comics. But the problem is that, being so poor, and not being able to get paid for a comic book, after a while it just got–it must have got tiresome for her, and now she wants to be a movie star, or whatever she is. Who wants to work that hard all the time for that kind of money, and not being able to go out to dinner now and then?
Right. She’s achieved a certain level of fame or notoriety, and she’s achieved that with her–at least on a certain level–with her art. Then again, some people might know about her because she dresses strangely and acts like a kook. But at the end of the day, if there isn’t any real financial gain that comes with it, it’s kind of a lot of work. It’s kind of a pain in the ass.
Right. So instead of drawing all the time, now she’s just decided to become annoying.
But you’re able to subside on your drawing–
Yes. Not strips, of course, but on my illustration, because the good thing about a weekly strip in The New York Press all the time is that I’m constantly getting calls for illustration work for magazines.
I don’t want to make you list–I know you’re not good with lists, but like come up with–
The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Wall Street Journal…I’m doing illustrations for the Boston Phoenix, for…yeah, this and that. Plus lots of things that nobody’s ever heard of. Brooklyn Brewery, Cattle Trade–shit like that.
EARLY YEARS AND INFLUENCES
You’re from Massachusetts, right?
Gloucester, Massachusetts. By the sea.
Does that explain your…you know, your drawing ships and tales of the sea, and the rest?
Yes, it does. My grandfather and grandmother used to be–they were artists. They did portraits of the sea, portraits of ships and portraits of people. They lived up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where my grandfather used to do a lot of pen and ink work. I remember, my brother was just telling me the other day, that our grandfather had some big collection of old Sunday comics that we used to read when we went over there on Sundays. We’d always go over on the weekends.
Your grandparents lived nearby where you and your parents lived?
Yeah. And somehow I remembered that. I remembered laying on the floor opening up these huge pages of color comics. I don’t know what book it was, but I guess what they had was a collection of color comics. And I remember that. I still didn’t remember that it was a book, I thought I was actually reading the comics, but I remember they were full-page Sunday color comics, and I loved the memory of those. That’s why I draw comics now.
That’s pretty interesting. I mean, a psychologist might say that what you fixate on at a very young age is going to come back in your later–especially for artists, it’s going to come back in your work.
Right. I like the idea of digging back to your farthest memory and trying to recreate it. I remember–the comics that I remember or that I dream about, the ones like the old Sunday newspaper comics, I don’t even know–the memory of them is better than when I actually go back and I try to–I really love to be able to recreate the memory of them, more so than actually looking at the old comics themselves. And that’s why I don’t read very many comics nowadays. I don’t want to pollute the memory. Sometimes I look at old collections, Winsor McCay, or–you know–the Smithsonian Collection, something like that. But not much.
Well, with your style, even the format of your strip–you know, there’s like a willful recreation of the style of the old strips.
It’s recreating the memory of them. I try to recreate the memory that I have of them, rather than looking at the actual strips and try to copy style.
But beyond cartoon influences and stuff–I mean, your drawings are just absolutely exquisite.
You can draw a house, or a boat, and realistically, with the power of a fine artists. What accounts for that?
I think that it comes from growing up in a family full of artists. My mother teaches art to junior high school kids, my father is an advertiser and designer, and my grandparents are both painters. So it was always around. I was looking at drawings and always watching my grandfather paint watercolors, oils, so it just came naturally to me. And also I think that probably one of the biggest influences was reading Winnie the Pooh when I was a little kid–first book that anybody read to me.
Obviously pre-Disney influence.
Yes, of course. Ernest Shepard drawings. That’s what made me pick up pen and ink, really, was just loving those books so much.
And did your mother–obviously she encouraged you and she was teaching you–
Well, yeah, she read them to me. Also, my grandfather read them to me, also I lived with the pictures, those beautiful pen and ink drawings. Also books by Johnny Gruelle, the original old Raggedy Ann and Andy books. That’s why I draw those little round flowers.
Right. Did your mother–beyond just like encouraging creativity and stuff, did she push you to master the real fundamentals of the art?
Yeah. She used to tell me that there were no–she used to tell us–like me, my brothers and my sister–that there were no coloring books allowed in the house, that if we wanted to color a drawing, we’d have to draw one first, then color it.
So I never even saw coloring books till I was older–too old to be interested in them.
Uh-huh. Did you–like, a lot of cartoonists, or kids generally–like, did you make your own comic books when you were kids?
When I was a teenager I did. As a matter of fact, when I was about ten I had a comic strip called Zero-Man that I used to draw.
What was that about?
It was about a little egg-shaped superhero with a zero on his chest who was a loser, like Charlie Brown. Flew around proclaiming how great he was, and then crashing into trees. My parents sent me to a psychiatrist when they started seeing those.
Is that right?
Yeah, I’m not joking. I was ten. They said, something’s wrong with him. Look at these comics. So they sent me to him. So he said, what do you do? Do you draw? That was the question he asked me. I said, yeah. What do you draw? I said, oh, comics. He said, let me see one. Then he had me draw one. That motherfucker had me coming back every week after that.
Well, I find it kind of hard to believe that they would send you to a shrink based on just drawing.
I believe it was because I was stubborn. I don’t remember. Something happened. When I was young, I started–things like smashing milk bottles in the street, and punching holes in the ceiling of my father’s car, things like that, so it might have been one of those incidents that spurred that.
Did you ever figure out what was causing this aggression, or–
Are you still going to a shrink?
How long did you go to one for?
Uh, three or four weeks.
Maybe he was a very good one, he fixed you.
Yeah, fixed. I’m fine!
Early intervention. Now, the other thing about you is that unlike many other cartoonists, you’re a pretty tall guy. What’s that like? Did that affect your childhood?
They used to call me Long John in high school.
Did you get picked on, or were you like bigger than the other kids?
No, I’d get picked on. I was considered really tall and nerdy, hippy, and I used to be always high.
Yeah, I smoked pot every day, and I had a comic strip character in high school called “Reefer Man”.
What was that about?
It was about a guy who smoked pot. He had a T-shirt with pictures of his lungs on the T-shirt with a star in each lung. I wonder if anybody in my high school still has a copy of that, because I haven’t seen one for years.
An early strip, from 1978
Are you in touch with anybody from your high school days?
No. I just heard that my best friend–when I was in high school, I always hung around with one guy named Danny Smith. He was my best friend, we were pals, and we hung around, we were losers and nerds together, and smoked pot. And I just found out that–my brother said he saw him a couple of years ago walking around the streets of Gloucester carrying cans. Picking up cans off the street. Now I just found out he died. I assume it was from acute alcoholism. It’s weird, though, because I haven’t heard anything for more than 20 years, so it’s funny to even try to sum up an emotion about it. A guy who was that close. It’s such a long time ago. Actually I’m not even sure if he’s dead. Maybe he’s not.
TONY’S PAST, PART I
What were you doing, like ten years ago? It seems to me as somebody who’s been on the periphery of this New York cartooning world for a while, you just sort of appeared about six years ago or something, just sort of out of the blue.
That’s right, out of the blue. I was living in Berlin for about–I lived there for about five years, and there I was bumming around being arty, hanging out with people and doing paintings, and for a living I had been drawing houses. I’d go out to fancy neighborhoods, drop cards in mailboxes with a little picture of a house on them, and they’d call me to draw their house.
This was in Germany?
I did it in Germany, I did it in Boston where I lived after school. Everywhere I went, when I was in Florida, California. So I could go out and do that. So I just drew house after house, and finally I just–it was driving me out of my mind, when I got to be about 35. I said, I’ve got to do something else than draw houses. So I just started drawing comics, and I tried to get them published anywhere I could, any fanzines or any magazines I could find.
So you came to New York directly from Berlin?
What was the magnet that brought you here?
What? A girl?
Well, the opposite. It was that when I–
No, it wasn’t a guy, it was that when I was in Berlin with a girl, she kept hanging around with this German guy–she was a German girl, but he kept–I was going out with her for about a year. She played around with this German guy, and so I kept saying to her, you’re not sleeping with that guy, are you? She said, no, he just–yeah, he sleeps over sometimes, but I’m not having sex with him. So then I went into her room one day, and her tampon was on the floor, I said, what are you doing? You’re pulling out your tampon so your friend can sleep on the sofa? So then I decided I had to leave Berlin, so the next logical place to go was New York, because I knew some people here, so I came to New York.
The first time I saw your stuff was in Murtaugh, which is sort of a baseball zine.
Right. That’s Spike Vrusho’s magazine. I was doing a strip about an alcoholic baseball player, called Batty.
Was your stuff appearing anywhere else at that time?
Yeah, I was doing a daily strip in Brooklyn, in a paper called “Waterfront Week.” It was one page, it was photocopied, and they would leave it on the bars–bars and stores. I had a strip in there called Medea’s Weekend, where I for a year or two years, maybe, learned how to draw comics. And how to meet deadlines. Having the discipline of having to draw a comic, no matter if you’re in the mood to do it or not, you’ve got to get it done every week, if you’ve got a hangover, you’re sick, it doesn’t matter, you’ve got to have it done. Even if it’s going to just be photocopied and put it in a storefront. It was–it pretty much changed my life. It’s different than having to pay the rent every month. Sometimes I would get paid for it and that’s fine, but you lose your comic strip, even in a little photocopied paper, that’s a much worse failure than getting evicted.
It’s interesting that you say you learned how to draw comic strips through that. I never saw the Waterfront strips, but the Batty ones, I don’t know how different they were, but a lot of the stuff you still do today is there in that work. I have to say it was a real eye-opener for me to go to see from those like little scratchy funny drawings to like all of a sudden, you know, the shift in this just amazing line that you had, and were able to create such a totally realized drawings of ships, the sea, etc.
Right. I got that from drawing houses. When you’re drawing a house or something, it’s got to look like the house, so, you know…so I’ve always known how to draw. Then comics have always–at first seemed to me–something, okay, make a funny little picture, make sure it’s funny-looking. And then draw something funny with it. And then I started putting in drawings. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’m like showing off that I know how to draw when I do something. Sometimes the drawing is too elaborate for the joke or the story. Or something.
Besides your mother’s teaching you and encouraging you, have you had any other form of training at all, or is this–
Yeah, I went to the Massachusetts College of Art for four years.
What was that like?
It was really difficult to get a traditional drawing class there. It was–I remember the first time I went into a drawing class, a hippie took some pastels and crunched them up–he was the professor–crunched them up, put the piece of paper on the floor, and then he put the pastels on the floor, then he took his shoes off and started walking on them. I thought, I don’t think I’m going to be able to learn how to draw anything in this class, really, but I just kept going, and it was good to meet people. But I never really got any training from it.
MAAKIES: SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE AND THE STRIP
How did it come to be that Saturday Night Live has been running an animated version of your Maakies strip?
I believe it was Adam McKay, the–what is he?–the writing supervisor or something, at Saturday Night Live, head writer of Saturday Night Live. He’s a very funny guy who is a great actor who read my comic strip and really liked it and called me up and asked me if I wanted to do something with it. Jim Signorelli is I guess the director of films over there, and he got involved, too. He’s been there for a long time, doing those commercials. He’s very funny, too. But I don’t really know. I don’t watch the show. I haven’t watched the show in years, so what do I know?
It was exciting to see some funny cartoons on a program that generally isn’t all that funny. Was it a lucrative deal? Did you get–
Uh…no. I don’t know if I should talk about that. I’d rather not talk about how much money I got from the Saturday Night Live, but I’ll tell you that it isn’t very much money.
But now that you’re living in Los Angeles, will it help you pursue any other sort of animation deal out there?
I don’t know. I don’t really care about that stuff. I like to draw the pictures and write the stories. And the most important thing with those is I think the voices. I’ve got to make sure I get good actors to do the voices, because I always thought with cartoons, of course, the best thing is the voice. Like with Bullwinkle.
Right. Who did the voices on yours?
One actor whose name I can’t mention. Another actress whose name I can’t mention. An actor whose name I can’t mention, and another actor whose name I’m not sure I’m allowed to mention, because of union rules. If you listen carefully, maybe you can figure it out.
You’re sort of weirdly secretive about certain things. Like, what does the name of your strip, Maakies, actually mean?
I can’t release that information until a certain person dies.
Is it because–
Because he or she would be extremely pissed off to even know that that name was being used. Actually, someone told [me] that it’s a derogatory term for Jews, but that’s spelled differently, M O C K I E S. Somebody heard that on a Lennie Bruce album one time. But I don’t know what that’s all about. Anyway, it has nothing to do with being a derogatory term for anybody.
What were you trying to do when you started out doing the Maakies strip?
Early Drinky Crows
All right. This is the story of Drinky Crow. One time a long time ago…not a long time ago, a time, let’s say, about five years ago, I was walking down a snowy street on my way to a bar, my heart broken, no place to–well, looking for a place to live, because a woman had told me that it might be a good idea if I moved out of the house. So I was depressed, went into a bar called Six Twelve, in Williamsburg, and the bartender told me that every time I would draw a comic strip, he would give me a free beer. And since I was pretty broke at the time, one of the reasons why I don’t live there any more, I started drawing a cartoon about a little bird who drank booze and blew his brains out all the time. So they were pretty funny, because they were just so–well, you know, drinking works well in comics. They’re not really jokes, they’re just sort of depressing. They’re just sort of there. So people who came in the bar saw those, and they all started drawing their own, so Drinky Crow became like a symbol for that bar. So then the bartender started doing photocopies of them and putting them around the bar, and people would come in and draw more, and then he put photocopies of everybody’s comics in this little newsletter that he was putting out. Just like a little bar newsletter. Basically just a Drinky Crow comic book. Then I did a couple of bigger versions of them and sent them out to fanzines like Selwyn Harris’s Happy Land, and Murtaugh. Then, somebody at the New York Press saw it and asked me if I’d do a strip for them. So I did. But apparently, I was told, that when it was maybe about four or five weeks old, the art director, Michael Gentile, asked Danny Hellman, “what do you think about it? I don’t know about this strip” because it wasn’t really that good in the beginning. It was not that strong, it wasn’t…he said, “What do you think of him? I don’t know what to do about this Maakies strip.” Danny Hellman told him, “No, you got to let it run, let it develop, see what happens with it.” So he did, so it stayed in–it was almost cancelled. But it stayed in there, because that beautiful Danny–now he’s my sworn enemy.
Tony with Danny Hellman
That’s a joke.
That’s a joke.
You guys are feuding?
About his E-mail pranks.
Oh, get over that.
Something he decided to–what?
Get over that.
I’m over it.
Get over that. That’s just Danny going insane, he loves a joke.
That’s right. Someday I’ll get him.
Good old Danny. Anyway, besides the New York Press, Maakies has been running where?
Seattle Stranger, Vancouver’s Terminal City, Albuquerque Alibi, Okay Magazine in Oklahoma City, Richmond Punchline and online at www. word.com. Just got picked up in Cleveland, Ohio. Ft. Lauderdale New Times, but I haven’t seen a check from them in a long time, I guess they don’t care.
And what is the reaction out in the heartlands to the strip?
I don’t know. Well, I put my E-mail address on the strip, and people send letters now and then, it’s generally very positive. Which is surprising. I thought it was kind of surprising.
Because it’s so depressing and violent?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s depressing and violent, but I guess there’s something touching about it.
This is a boring question, but I want to ask it anyway.
What are my influences?
No. That comes later. Do you draw a certain number of strips all at once, or do you tend to do them week by week?
A strip is due at The New York Press at 10:00 Monday morning. I usually start it around ten or eleven PM Sunday night. I stay up all night and get it done. Sometimes you can tell that I was completely drunk while doing it. Sometimes I had a terrible hangover and my hand was shaking. Sometimes I feel great, and the drawings are strong and bold. But it’s always the very last minute. It takes like six hours to do it, and I’m usually about three hours late getting it in.
Ernie Bushmiller used to flip through underwear catalogs to get ideas for Nancy.
Yeah. Do you have any similar techniques. Are there any other publications–
Oh, sure. I read books about the sea, ships. Patrick O’Brian mostly. Do you know Patrick O’Brian?
No, I don’t.
Patrick O’Brian wrote a–he’s still writing, actually–a series of novels about life during the War of 1812 or during the Napoleonic Wars, life at sea. Life aboard a man o’ war.
How many books are in the series?
I think there’s 17, maybe there’s 18.
Jesus! What kind of genre is that? Is it historical fiction, is it–
And they’re good?
They’re fantastic. He said that he was–he was deeply moved when they moved his books out from the Fiction section to the Literature section…in some fancy bookstore in London.
Is he from England?
Yes. Well, I believe he’s Irish.
And how did you come across him?
I think I was in a bookstore and I saw the first book sitting there, and I picked it up–there was a picture of a ship on it, I picked it up and read it, and I’ve been reading it ever since. I’ve been reading practically nothing but Patrick O’Brian’s books over and over again for the past two years, three years.
Before you like hooked into that, were you somebody who always read a lot of books, or–
How do your tastes run?
Dopey classics like Moby Dick and–this is not dopey. I don’t–
Overblown classics. But they’re all sort of nautical based?
Yeah. Overblown? The only reason…I have to tell you that I’m really bad at coming up with lists of things that I’ve done.
Do you look at art books much?
I do. I look at a lot of–mostly books of old–I really like–I hate to say it, but crude, excuse me, naive paintings of ships.
Naive? What do you mean? Bad ones?
Naive. When they used to build a ship, back in the old days, they would hire somebody to come and draw a–to come and do a painting of it. Just like me drawing houses.
Yeah, but your drawings are well done, though.
So were those paintings. Those are beautiful.
What makes them naive, though?
They’re called naive. It’s bullshit.
It’s like, you know, straight art.
That’s like a technical term.
Yeah. Well, it’s like–it’s straight art, it’s actually an illustration of the ship, but you can do a beautiful painting. Those people were more concerned with drawing the–getting a painting of the ship itself then doing a painting.
TONY IS THE LIFE OF THE PARTY
With Kaz, talking about food.
Though you’re a relatively young man, you have false teeth. What’s the story there?
Yeah. Got ’em knocked out in a car crash when I was 13.
When you were 13? So you had false teeth all through high school?
Yeah. So what? Lots of people have false teeth through high school, they just don’t pull them out in bars.
Well, lots of guys have dicks, too. But not everyone pulls them out at parties all the time.
And they don’t fuck slices of pizza, either, right Kaz? In Kaz’s interview with the Comics Journal, he told the story about how I fucked a slice of pizza one time. He makes it seem like I wrapped the slice of pizza around my dick. I didn’t. I put a hole in the center of it and pulled my penis through.
Was it erect?
That’s why I had to pull it. It was a gag! Sam Henderson was there, King of the Gags.
It worked as a gag. But you like have a reputation for like pulling your dick out, though, sometimes.
I don’t know if that’s a reputation or not. I just–one thing–one story like that–one beautiful sexual act like that happens in front of some people, and suddenly it happened forty times and everybody’s making a big deal out of it.
I know you’re with a steady girl now, but before that, I used to see you with a lot of cartoon groupie girls. You’d always be sitting in the corner of the party, surrounded by sad, little tattoo girls.
It’s funny about that, because somehow I get–I keep hearing from people that I’m a lady’s man. I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, but what it mean–the point is that, when I go out, I like to go to a party, I like to hang around with the girls. I don’t sit in the boys’ corner. I like to go out with girls, but that doesn’t mean I’m fucking them all. I don’t know why–when somebody says “lady’s man,” then they start asking about VD and pregnancies, because they assume that every time they see me with a girl, that means I’m screwing her. I don’t like that. I don’t get it. It’s a bad reputation. Someone else–I don’t know if it was Dame Darcy–said I was a cad. I don’t know why she calls me a cad. Me, a cad? I’m a genuine gentleman. Except if there’s a slice of pizza around.
Who do you hang out with around here, in the city? Who are you going to miss when you move to L.A.?
Helena Harvilicz, my roomate. And the great poet Terrence Ross, who writes poems for me sometimes for Maakie’s. Practically–maybe 50%–of all my jokes come from conversations I’ve had with friends. Most specifically Helena.
Tony with ex-roomate Helena Harvilicz
Former Comics Journal editor?
Yes. Former Comics Journal editor. My favorite one that she came up with was called “Leaving Skid Row,” where there’s a guy and a woman, and the guy says, “One thing, baby, don’t ever ask me to stop drinking.” And she says, “Can I ask you to stop peeing on my leg?” It sounds better with a Baltimore accent.
Yeah. But that was probably based on a life experience for her.
Could be, yeah. What do you mean by that?
What’s that like, living with a member of the opposite sex in a sort of a–is it like Three’s Company, and is it like–
It’s great. It’s good. It’s like being married, but you don’t have to fuck her. When she’s having a period, I don’t care. [Both laugh]
If you come back to New York, are you going to move back with Helena, or–
Well, I have no idea what’s going to happen out in California, so I really can’t make any predictions about where I’ll be.
Do you have any plans at all?
I simply don’t have any idea what will happen. But I’ve moved to another city with no plans before, and something great always happens. One time I moved to Italy with $250 and a one-way ticket, no idea what I was going to do. I didn’t know anybody there. I had $250 and a one-way ticket, and the money ran out in about two weeks, and then I thought, well, I’d better do something. I did a drawing of the Roman Forum and when I sat in the Coliseum and I sketched on it, it was the drawing–I had it printed up, this drawing, I had it printed up. I had about 500 copies of it. So I sat there and I just added an extra little rock and some grass, till I heard American tourists walk by and I would ask them what time it was, and they’d say, “Oh, you’re American?” I’d say, yeah, and I’d lean over so they could see the drawing, and they’d say, “What are you doing?” And then I would sell the drawing for about ten bucks. And they’d be so shocked to get such a beautiful drawing for $10.
It was just a photocopy.
Yeah. One time this couple came back, like two hours later. They saw me sitting there drawing the same picture and I thought, what am I going to do? What am I going to say? I said to them, oh, I liked the picture I did for you, that picture I did before, I liked it so much I came back and I drew the same picture.
Now, a lot of cartoonists seem–a lot of them are kind of like slobs.
Kind of like what?
Slobs. On the other hand, you’re kind of a natty dresser.
When I’m going out.
What accounts for that?
I’m Tony Millionaire, for god’s sake! Do you want me to walk around dressed like Sammy Henderson?
But also, physically, you keep it up. You look good.
Yeah. But that’s the clothes.
But knowing what I know of you–
That’s what clothes cover up.
–you don’t do any jogging or any–
I used to wear fancy tuxedos and wacky plaid pants, but suddenly everybody started calling me Kramer. That TV show came around, so I had to knock that off. Had some of the wackiest suits. Was I cool.
Where would you get them?
You know. Thrift stores.
Do you ever tire of doing strips of alcoholic–
–animals blowing their brains out?
Yeah. I figured it out the other day. Look at all that booze. Makes you sad. Makes you sad and mad. Something happened to me on my fortieth birthday.
When was that?
When was that?
That was about two years ago. Where I…I got really–of course, it was–I decided I wasn’t going to drink any hard liquor any more, because it was getting to be too much. So I drank a bunch of red wine, then I drank a lot of red wine. Then I got into a fight with a taxi driver because I was pissed because he wouldn’t take five people in his cab. So I crawled up on top of the cab. The taxi driver took off, went zooming down the street, and then I figured I’d either hang on or jump, so I decided to jump, and cut my leg up kind of bad, and my shoulder, then spent the rest of the night ranting about how the bastard tried to kill me, then woke up in the morning and realized that I’d better knock off all that hard drinking. So guzzling bottles of wine is something I don’t do very often.
You still drink though.
I’ll have a shot of Scotch now and then, but you don’t see me walking around with a bottle of vodka in my back pocket any more. My friend Vinnie Dagnilo used to say, “That Tony Millionaire, he’s like an enigma! He’s got a bottle of vodka in the back pocket and god knows where the teeth are.” That’s funny, that’s cool. Vinnie Dagnilo.
I’m just amazed that you’re able to draw these beautiful drawings of ships and things when you’re always loaded.
Oh, it’s just made up, I’m joking. I draw just swell, drunk or sober. Unless I’m really drunk for three days. Then I just start getting so tired that I actually fall asleep while drawing, so the pen starts to slip. But drunk or sober doesn’t make any difference when you’re drawing a picture.
Do you have a really high tolerance for booze?
No, I have a very low tolerance for booze. I mean, I probably have an average tolerance for booze, which I used to overcome by drinking lots and lots of it, fast. But now I’ve learned to cut down. Once you’re over forty, your body can’t really take that shit. Well, how do you think Drinky Crow was born? Drinky Crow was born because I was such a fucking drunk, that I treated the woman I was living with badly, and then I was walking around on the streets looking for a beer. Drawing in bars. The only big thing in my comic strip is the celebration of getting drunk. It’s not really. It’s like–well, you know what it is, just read it. It’s a picture of a person who drinks a lot of booze, what it’s like. It’s not a celebration.
Yeah. So in one aspect, there’s autobiographical ties–
–in the actual drinking. But the precedent, is that rooted in any sense of your own personal history, or not?
Yeah, of course. I mean–yeah, of course. What am I supposed to say about that?
Well, you’ve never blown your brains out, have you?
But you’ve thought about it?
Not really. I think that’s a metaphor for just saying, fuck everything. Jumping on top of a taxicab and zooming down the street. You know, it’s just–it’s also an easy way to end a comic strip. What do I do now? What do I do now? Fuck everything. It’s a good way to end a conversation, and a story, or a relationship. Metaphorically blow your brains out. Fortunately, when you do that with a comic strip, you can move on, right?
Do you do any drugs?
I used to, yeah. I don’t do any drugs any more.
What did you do before you–
I used to like cocaine a lot, but that was a different time period, but now it gives me an immediate sinus attack and I feel nervous and all I want to do is get more.
Is it still as expensive as it used to be?
It’s always been expensive, but it’s not that expensive. I used to buy $5 bags of cocaine down on 7th Street. Stand in line. It was yellow. Came wrapped up in tinfoil. Five bucks.
How much would you get?
Just a little.
Two lines. I don’t like that stuff. I don’t like to even think about that any more. I’d rather think about butterflies fluttering on a hill.
Do you think there will ever be a time when you like don’t drink any more, or don’t do anything bad any more?
I don’t know. My life changes all the time so much that I have no idea what would happen in the future. But yeah, I could imagine a time coming when I don’t find any amusement in booze.
Are you worried that as you get older, that it’s more problematic–
Yeah. I used to–really, the reason that I used to drink a lot wasn’t so much to drown out the horror of being alive, but more–maybe that was part of it, of course–but when I started, it was to have a good time, to have fun. What a blast, being drunk, being the king of the world, standing on top of the table saying, look at me, I’m a fucking idiot [laughs]. But it’s not so fun any more, after you’ve done it for the eight-millionth time. I can stay home with a nice glass of wine, light a candle, and fuck a slice of pizza at my own house. I can bake my own pizza and fuck it.
What does fucking a pizza feel like?
Have you had worse?
Have you had worse?
Well, I don’t want to talk about what I’ve had.
LIKES AND DISLIKES
I think you’re a pretty open-minded kind of guy.
Extremely open-minded. What do you mean by that?
I think you’re also pretty sentimental, right?
Yes, of course, I’m sentimental. Haven’t you ever read the Sock Monkey?
Yeah, I know.
Yeah, it’s a very sentimental comic book. I cry at the Funniest Home Videos, for god’s sake.
I’m not sure I believe that.
It’s true. I’m telling you, it’s completely–it’s absolutely true.
Do you cry at the horror of life because of it, or is it–
Millionaire: No, at the beauty of it! A little kid squirting his mommy with a hose and then she freaks out and then he gets scared because he thinks he hurt her, so he starts crying and she bends down and hugs him. My god, that’s beautiful. I love that show. I’m not making an ironic assertion about it, I really love that show. It’s just really like pictures of little kids banging baseball bats. It’s so–about–I’ll tell you, I get much more of a thrill from–let’s see, I’m trying–I have to make a comparison now, don’t I? Well, I’m not going to make a comparison. But I get a great thrill out of watching the Andy Griffith Show, when Pa talks to Opie, and Opie says, “Pa”–a criminal was coming to town one time, and Pa was kind of nervous about it, because he had a grudge against the sheriff. And Opie said, “Pa, are you scared of the trouble that’s coming?” That was beautiful. Now that’s beautiful.
What’s your favorite TV show?
I like Mister Show. That’s a great show and It’s going to get a lot better. You know why?
Because Becky Thyre’s going to be in it this season. She’s my girlfriend!
That’s great. Now maybe it won’t suck as bad. What about movies?
SUCK!? That’s a great show, what are you, insane? Movies, Damn the Defiant, now there’s a film.
Who’s in that?
Don’t ask me that, because I’ve never really seen it. I just really like it. It’s about big sailing ships shooting at each other.
Did you ever read the Popeye collections?
Yeah, I love Popeye. But I–you know, I got into Popeye–I love the cartoons on TV, of course, but I really started to like Popeye after I started doing comics myself. Then I saw collections of old Popeye comics. I didn’t know they existed. I really love them. My grandfather used to be friends with Roy Crane.
Yeah. He went to college with him.
That’s pretty funny.
Roy Crane used to say to him…used to get him into conversations and he said, “One day I realized he didn’t care about what I had to say, he just wanted to hear my Texas accent.” That’s my grandfather’s Roy Crane story.
Did you read any other comics as a kid?
Sure. Good old Charlie Brown.
No, I never read Marvel or any of the superhero books. I’ve always found those totally boring. I still do. I don’t know why anybody likes to watch a big muscular guy run around in a suit. I liked Batman when it was on TV. But sure, good old Charlie Brown. I like Peanuts. Really mainstream shit I love. Blondie. I love Mutt and Jeff. I love newspaper comics. Even really stupid ones. I used to pick up the newspaper every day as soon as I got old enough to buy it, just to read the dopey comics. Something about the paper, I don’t know. But books? The only comic books I ever bought were Sad Sack. I love Sad Sack.
You’re the one!
Yeah, I was buying them. They’re easy to read. Just like Kaz.
Do you like Kaz’ work?
Yeah, I love it. I love Kaz.
What other contemporaries do you like?
Michael Kupperman is a fantastic cartoonist who writes a strip in the Seattle Stranger called Up All Night. He also goes by the name of P. Reeves. He’s fantastic. That’s a cartoonist. Sam Henderson, king of all gags. Those are the only cartoonists I read.
Just those two?
Dame Darcy, Michael Kupperman, Kaz, Dan Clowes, Bagge, some of those crazy Italians. But I really have to say that I don’t read Peanuts any more.
His line has gotten shakier and shakier.
Yeah, it’s gotten shakier and shakier, and so has the ridiculous story. But I remember a comic strip in the newspaper nowadays, the Daily News, it’s One Big Happy.
One Big Happy?
Yeah. it’s by Rick Detorie. It’s about this girl named Ruthie. She’s just a little kid. It’s nice. It’s sweet.
Yeah, it’s great. It’s about a little kid. It’s about how little kids think. I guess that’s what I…I like Family Circus, too.
Yeah! Everybody likes that one.
I love Family Circus. I love it. My favorite one, Jeffy is sitting up in bed, the window behind him is open. It’s black outside. Just black, no moon. He says, “Mommy, how many days are there after tomorrow?” Jesus. It’s like watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. I cry when I watch that TV show. It’s so real. Little kid squirts his mommy with a hose, I’m sitting there crying watching it. Go into my room, draw pictures of crows blowing their brains out. Look, I’m starting already. The tears are going into my eyes.
A LIFE OF CRIME REVISITED
Someone told me you almost started a major war once. True?
Oh, the LaBelle Discotheque–it was a discotheque in Berlin a long time ago. You remember when Reagan bombed Libya?
Well, that was stirred by a photograph of me. Okay. You laugh, but it’s true. Okay, this is what happened. I was in Berlin, and I had just come from a party, and I was wearing a tuxedo, so it was maybe three o’clock in the morning, and I was in a car with a bunch of friends. And we went past this bombed-out building, and all the firetrucks were around it, and American soldiers, and I said–and my friend said, “Oh, my god, look! A bombed-out warehouse or something, I wish I could get some photographs of that.” She had her camera with her, see? I said, “You want photographs, baby? Follow me.”. So I ran in there, ran past the cops, and I ran past the police, and she was right behind me and she started snapping pictures. So I started screaming, “Oh, my god, my wife! My wife is in there!” and I started picking up a big boulder, trying to move it. And some American soldiers came over, and they said, “What’s the matter, buddy?” “My wife is in here!” And they said, “All right, all right, come on over here, what’s your wife’s name?” They brought me over to a jeep, and I sat there and I said, “Sally,” and then I noticed there was a reporter right next to me, a German reporter. “Sally,” and then they got my name and–
–checked my ID–yeah, Sally Millionaire, well, Richardson. They checked my name and my address, the name on my ID and all that stuff, and then they–after a while, they realized that I was full of shit, so I wanted to get out of there. So I started letting the story kind of fall, and then they realized that I was like–that I was just a goofball, see? Yeah, your wife Sally wasn’t here, you don’t even have a wife, do you? What do you mean, wife? I don’t have a wife. They said, oh, a wise guy. So they brought me over to the cops–the German cops, and they stood me next to the cops and they said to the cops, I want you men to hold this man. We’re going to come back and question him later. So they went back into the bombed-out building. And the cops didn’t understand English, but I understood German. So the cops said to each other, what did he say? And then I said to the cops, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Crazy Americans. And then I just walked away. The cops didn’t do anything. So I just walked away. So the next day, I was living in a squat, see? I come downstairs, and there’s a–friends of mine are sitting in the living room with the newspaper. I’m on the front page of the Berliner Morgenpost, it’s like The New York Times in Berlin. On the front page there’s a picture of me holding onto a rock screaming, oh my god! It said underneath it, his wife Sally danced as the bomb detonated. So I was like–yeah, cool! I mean, I’m on the front page of the newspaper. Yeah, I’m famous! But then they were like–that’s not funny, man. People died in that. I said what? I didn’t realize that two people died in the explosion. I thought it was like a warehouse or something. So then my father called up from America. He said, so we saw you on the front page of the Boston Herald. What! And then it turned out I was on the front page of all these American newspapers, because that was the only photograph they had, because the ambulance had cleared everybody out so quickly that by the time the photographers arrived, there was nobody to photograph except me. Desperately drunk, pulling up a rock, wearing a tuxedo. So they photographed me. So here’s the aftermath: Ronald Reagan picks up a paper, the Washington Post, and there on the front page is me going ahh! His wife Sally dances, the bomb detonated. Those fucking Libyans. And then we launch an attack on Libya, we killed Quadaffi’s daughter-in-law or something.
Now do you feel guilty about this at all?
No, what? Guilt–what’s there to be guilty for?
Well, you caused the death of somebody’s kid.
No! Well, yes, I do. Yes, I feel very guilty. I feel guilty to be a part of the news.
Well, at least it’s a funny story. Have you ever–or are you ever going to–spend much time in prison?
No–well, yes. I’ve been in jail about ten times, I’d say. One time–okay, –public drunkenness–I woke up in Fort Lauderdale jail, I had one shoe on, and I sort of woke up, and I thought, this is preposterous, what’s going on? I started banging on the cell bars. I only had one shoe. And this big fat cop came out the door, and I said, let me out of this jail! How dare you put me in jail? He said to me, “You may think you’re in Disneyland, boy, but you’re in the Deep South now. You’d best behave.” So I behaved. One time I was walking down the street in San Francisco, and I–it was Christmas time, I didn’t have any money for a Christmas tree, so I thought–I’ll just pull out a shrub. Of course I was drunk. I pulled a shrub out of the ground, I was walking home with it, with the root tail dragging out of the end of it, like it was a Christmas tree, and some cops pulled up. They said, “Where are you going with that?” I said home. They said, “What is that?” I said, it’s a Christmas tree. They said, “Where did you get that?” I said, uh…they started getting out of the car, and I thought to myself, I can either stay there and explain my way out, which I wouldn’t be able to do, or I could run. So I dropped the tree and I ran, but the bottom of my shoe–because my shoe had come loose, the bottom of it, the sole was flapping. So I just kept running, and then I heard them coming right behind me, so I just laid on the ground . So I laid down on the ground, so they wouldn’t knock me down. And then they picked me up and took me to jail.
There was a riot in Berlin while I was there. So they were burning down the supermarket across the street from my house, and they had blocked off the whole block. They were protesting that Reagan was coming to town. And it was a big riot, we were all throwing rocks at the cops, because in our drunkenness we thought–at least in my drunkenness, I thought I was doing something for the good of the world, by throwing rocks at the cops. So then in the morning, the sun was coming up, I walked up to a cop, a very young cop, and I said, hey–I said to him in German–hey, want to fight? I said to him, hey, how old are you? And his friends, the veteran cops, the older ones who had all this like riot gear on–his friends are right next to him, they’re leaning over to him, saying, don’t pay any attention to him, just ignore him. Don’t pay any attention. And he was standing there getting all red and I said, what are you, about 17 years old? Then finally I said to him, say, you want to fight? Come on, let’s fight. I showed him my fists. And then all the cops go, all right, let’s go. So they started to run at me, and I turned around and I ran. I was running down the street, and I turned around to see where they were. They were right behind me, especially that young guy, who was really red-faced and puffing, and he was really pissed off. And then I saw him fall, and he tumbled around. It turned out later he broke a couple of his fingers when he fell, and the other cops, the older cops, the ones who knew what they were doing, they ran really fast, and they came right up to me, and one of them dived and caught my legs. So my face came down bam! Smacked right on to the pavement. And then I sat up, and I reached for my nose, for my face. There was no nose. And I couldn’t find–there was no nose on my face. So I reached over to the right of my face and then over to the left. There it was, hanging way over on the left. And then the cops all came around me, and they pulled out their sticks, and they’re about to bash my head in, as they had done to my friend earlier that night. Broke all her teeth out, because they don’t like rioters. Anyway, they held up their sticks and they looked at me, and they went, oh my god! and turned around, because I was so disgusting. I guess my whole face was like a big–it looked like hamburger. So I grabbed my nose immediately and I pulled it out and let it snap back into place, which I knew you were supposed to do if you get a broken nose. It healed pretty well. So that’s that story.
Were you actually arrested at that point, though?
Well, actually they took me to like some kind of a–they took me to like a trailer, a special riot jail, which was a trailer, and they didn’t have enough room to put me in jail, so they just let me go, since I was American. Then a year later they made me pay $700 to have the–to pay the doctor bills for the cop whose fingers got broken.
When I lived in Berlin, I also used to do stage decoration and costumes for a band called “The Wonderful Guys”. I would go to a slaughterhouse and get some cow heads and some bones and hang them from the ceiling. I’d hook windshield wiper motors to them so they would dance around over the band. Once we were in Munich and I went to the local slaughterhouse and asked if they had any heads. The slaughterer looked at me kind of weird, happy, and then he went in the back. He wheeled out this giant bin full of cow heads, no fur but plenty of meat still on them. They were twitching and the eyeballs were rolling around, moving. “Ganz frisch!” he says, that means “really fresh.” I didn’t have a car so I had to put the heads in a sack and carry them over my shoulder. I could feel them moving on my back as I walked. That night at the party, a Bavarian hippie farmer started to cry, he was drunk. He was upset about what we had done to the cows, dishonoring them. He pulled down one of the heads and tried to leave with it, but the bouncer wouldn’t let him. They wrestled with it till the bouncer finally got it away from him, but that farmer just started to really cry. The bouncer got disgusted and heaved the head at him, it was very heavy, he heaved it like a medicine ball, and the farmer fell over in the dirt. It was a pathetic scene, I started to feel like maybe I was doing something bad.
Another time, my house got blown up with a bomb.
Who blew up your house?
Some teenagers. I was living in a house on Mission Hill, in Boston. We were having trouble with the neighbors, a lot of noise and parties. There was this guy named Finegan who lived behind us, he used to threaten us with a shotgun sometimes. One day we decided to have a party, so I went to the slaughterhouse and I got some heads. A cow’s head, a boars head and then Billy Ruane brought a lamb’s head. I hung them up in the closet and put a motor on them so they danced around a little, I put a light in there. You know, it was funny. Late that night they started to get smelly, so I took them outside and threw them over a fence. Early the next morning, I was sleeping on the sofa and there was a loud explosion. I opened my eyes to see smoke gushing through the cracks of the front door. The whole apartment filled with smoke. I ran around waking everybody up and getting them out of the house. Someone had put a bomb in the stairway, it blew out all the windows in the hall, but nobody got hurt. Later, I was sitting in the front of the house, the firemen were going in and out, the downstairs neighbors were moving out, and one of the local teenagers walked up. I said, “Look what they did to our house, Bernard!” He punched me hard in the mouth, my fake teeth shattered and I spit them into the street, bloody. “Fuck you Tony Millionaire!” he said and he walked away. I decided to move out, so I went down the block to my friend Pia’s house. That night they smashed out the rest of the windows in our house with rocks. Pia came in the room and said,”Someone just called to say that they know the devil worshipper is in here and that they are going to firebomb my house.” I decide to get out the back door and I went to North Carolina for a vacation. They wrote some crazy shit about it in the papers, most of it wasn’t true, but it was bad enough anyway. I moved to California after that.
How did you start the Sock Monkey books?
My other grandmother, my father’s mother, lived in Newton, Massachusetts in a big Victorian house. To me it was a big huge Victorian house. I went back and saw it, it wasn’t that big. But to me it was a huge Victorian house with stairways–that’s what Sock Monkey is all about. She gave me a sock monkey for Christmas one time when I was about two, three, and she said, “His name is Monkey.” And I held it, and I said “Mummy.” My mother, who I also called Mummy at that time, didn’t like that too much, so she said, “His name is Joe.” So I had a sock monkey named Joe, and my cousin Ann Louise–that’s why the Sock Monkey is set in that old Victorian house. And my cousin, Ann Louise, used to–there was like a hidden stairway in the back, and she used to play tricks with it. Like she’d go up to–there was a closet up there where she would do the things that 14-year-old cousins do where they would knock on the door. And we were little kids. So there was a little man who lived in there. She would leave a little apple for him. She put a little dollhouse chair and a table there for him, and we really believed that he was in there, that he lived in there. I believed it completely. So remembering that was one of the things that I tried to do with this book.
Uh-huh. Well, it’s gorgeous. Again, it’s just, you know…the drawing is as good as anything that I think I’ve ever seen.
The interiors are mostly taken from the–from corners of my brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. The houses that I draw are all in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
Do you use much reference material for your work?
Yeah. That’s why I have all those paintings of nautical scenes in books, because practically everything I draw, I draw it from a painting or an etching or a photograph. And then I cartoonize it.
So where do you get paintings or photographs of drunken sock monkeys or crows?
I have a sock monkey. I hold it up and draw it. I have a stuffed crow, too, that I hold up and draw with button eyes.
Did you have that before you started doing your strip?
Yeah, my sister made this sock monkey for me, because she remembered that I had one when I was a kid.
What about the crow?
I don’t remember how it came into my house, but one day it was there. I sewed button eyes on it because it didn’t have any eyes.
So its eyes have “X”s like a drunk.
Yeah. Like Drinky Crow when he’s drunk.
But–so you got that after you were doing the Drinky Crow character?
I don’t know. It was a crow–I don’t remember who dropped it off, but somebody left it in my house, maybe at a birthday party or something. A black stuffed crow with no eyes.
Like a real crow?
No, a toy.
Here it is. Because I have a photograph of it on the back of the first issue of Sock Monkey.
Oh. It’s pretty.
See the hat? It’s small, and it doesn’t look as good, and I used to draw it that way, and I drew a couple of Sock Monkey comics for The New York Press. Then I lost the hat. My sister made me a new one, and gave it to me for Christmas last year. My sister and her kids. And the new hat was bigger. It looks a lot better.
I’ve dedicated my comic book to my niece Robin and my other niece Caroline.
How old are they?
Six and three.
Have they ever seen the monkey stuff?
Yeah, they see it all the time. Yeah, I send them stuff like that all the time.
Your sister’s fine with that?
Sure. I don’t send them the nasty ones.
And they don’t know about being–they don’t know about the ravages of alcohol. They see a crow drinking booze. I remember when I used to watch cowboy movies, and the Indians would drink and they’d crawl over a wagon filled with hooch and be riding the wagon, cracking open the cases of whiskey and drinking it. I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t stand the taste of whiskey, so the movie was ruined for me, so I would imagine they were drinking orangeade, which I really loved. Yeah, orangeade! Hah, hah!
You were talking before about the reaction that your strip has gotten. What kind of reaction has the comic book itself got–
Well, it’s getting really good reaction. Of course, look at it, it’s a beautiful book. It’s selling out everywhere it appears. There’s a weird system for selling comic books, I guess, so it’s really hard to find it. But maybe that will change, who knows? Comic books–selling comic books has always been a totally mystifying, weird, process. I don’t know how it works, not at all. I mean, where do you buy them? Who knows? I don’t know. I know one store in New York where you buy them. I found out recently there are other stores, only because my book was in them. You’d think they’d want to sell them. Mommies would want to buy this for their kids, these comic books, except for the end, which I won’t spoil. Except to say that something really bad happens.